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Margaret Cowgill Remembered

by Ashley Lenz

Margaret Cowgill, known by many in the Saddlebred world as Margaret Ruth, passed away April 8 in Kansas City, Mo.

Daughter of famed equitation pioneer, Annie Lawson Cowgill, Margaret was known for her extraordinary ability to truly connect with the spirit of the horses she trained, a trait so few trainers possess. She dedicated her life to the American Saddlebred, producing some the best horse and rider combinations of this generation. Margaret grew up in Milan, Mo., where her mother, Annie, ran a summer horsemanship camp attended by students from all over the world. Annie, along with Helen Crabtree, propelled saddle seat equitation to the art form it is today. Margaret began instructing at the camp as a teenager. Some of the great riders and instructors of today who were students of the Cowgill summer riding camp include Gayle Lampe, Lillian Shively, Randy Stuart Wightman, Janet Green and Stacy Stackhouse, just to name a few. Helen Crabtree sent many of her riders to the Cowgills every summer to learn from Annie and Margaret. Margaret looked up to her mother in so many ways and Annie was without a doubt the biggest influence on her life.

Lillian Shively said, "Margaret was the love of Annie’s life."

Margaret held an AA degree from Stephens College in Columbia where she was very active in the riding program; the department that was headed by her mother for 12 years. Margaret then went on to get a BA degree from the University of Missouri and worked outside of the horse business for a few years until she was offered a job teaching equitation by Don Brockman in Neenah, Wis., who at the time had one of the premier show barns in the country.

Those who knew Margaret best would undoubtedly say that no one could make them laugh like she did. She had a very intelligent dry sense of humor that made her storytelling abilities unrivaled by anyone. Her timing was impeccable, her laughter contagious and her heart bigger than she herself. She let nothing hold her back in life, not even her battle with crippling polio she suffered as a child. Her story was inspirational to all who knew her and all who saw her ride. She could make a horse do what nearly anyone with perfectly functional legs could not, simply by feeling and thinking. Her connection with the horses she trained and rode was undeniable, many times taking on "problem horses" or those deemed "un-trainable" and making them into stars. The horses she trained were always happy—happy to be with her and happy to be understood.

Each rider knows throughout their riding career there is always one horse that stands above the rest, one horse that will always hold the most special place in her heart. The Beneficiary was that to Margaret. "Bene" (Benny) as he was affectionately known by Margaret, was her special horse. He was purchased from Paul Priebe and went on to be one of the most talked about five-gaited horses in the Midwest in the early to mid ‘80s. Bene was deemed too "hot" for a ladies horse at the time, but that was what Margaret loved about him. "He was all go forward," she said many times about him. "You never had to ask him for more. As soon as he felt you sit down in the saddle, it was go." Among the few notable wins Margaret had on Bene were five-gaited classes at Midwest and the American Royal. The dynamic duo even beat out the rarely defeated team of Mary Gaylord and Santana Lass at the Tulsa Charity Horse Show on April 30, 1986. Bene lived out his life with Margaret on her farm in Willard, Mo. She always said that the day Bene had to be put down was one of the saddest days of her life.

Undoubtedly the most important aspect of Margaret’s life was the horses she was so happy to train and their riders. Some of Margaret’s most notable riders include Mary Knauer Miller, Kathy Vance, Cindy Vance, Ashley Lenz, Kiley Lawrence, Amber Mitchell, Carrie Wooten McLiney, Andrea Perry, Marjorie Townsend, Edward Townsend, Joey Newman, Kate Johnson, Emily Shivers, Debi Ball, Sherry Osbourne, Hillary Lundman, Nancy Amiral and Melissa Kidd, just to name a few.

Margaret trained horses not with an iron fist, but with an understanding. Her ability to truly get inside their head was remarkable and the results of her talents were quite evident. Horses like Sporty Gillen, Touchdown, Samtana, Tashonka Witko, Aquarian Ace, Time Bandit, Oklahoma Dark Miss, Shamrock’s Promenading Lady, Thomas Gordon, Lily Bart, Caramac’s Casanova, Absolute Courage, Commanders Return, S.S. Bravissimo, My Precious Tears, B.B. Brown, Shamrocks Misty Chief and Return Requested were products of Margaret Cowgill and her Joan Stables.

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